Sector News
French Hospitals Securing Contracts with a UK Clinical Commissioning Group

We have featured recently a couple of articles based on the Public Procurement Podcasts (here and here) that looked at issues around public procurement and cross-border supply. One of the key questions is – how much interest will there be from potential suppliers in terms of contracts in a different country? The results may be surprising, as we will see.

It is also usual to think about cross-border contracts in the context of supply of goods from one EU country to another, or maybe some fairly standard services such as in certain technology-related areas. But a story in an English newspaper last week highlighted a somewhat unusual example of cross-border contracting, unusual that is because of the type of public procurement and spend to which it related. The Kent Online website reported that:

Kent surgery patients may be funding a trip to Calais under new plans to treat them in France. Two French hospitals are on the verge of securing contracts from South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group.

If successful, Centre Hospitalier de Calais and Fondation Hospitale will be able to provide treatments including general surgery, gynaecology, cataract surgery, pain management and orthopaedics to patients travelling from Kent.

Kent is of course the part of England closest to France, a mere 21 miles (33 kilometres) of La Manche / the English Channel famously separates Dover from Calais, or to be precise, the two closest points which actually lie slightly outside the two respective towns.

Back to these contracts: our understanding is that this is one of the examples in the UK National Health Service where any provider who meets the required quality standards and is prepared to work to a fixed tariff price can go onto what is in effect an approved supplier list. The patients who require treatment can then choose from between these suppliers, if their own doctor states that they need the treatment of course.

Accountable officer for NHS South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group, Hazel Carpenter, said: “We recently invited organisations that provide treatments … two French providers applied as well as a number of English ones.”

“We carried out a careful assessment of the services they offer and are visiting the sites. The two French providers, among others, fulfilled our criteria and we expect to finalise a contract with them.”

The Clinical Commissioning Group pointed out that this was not a criticism of the UK hospitals that applied, but simply that the French met the criteria and “It is quite simply a procurement that follows EU competition rules and has the advantage of giving local people a choice.”

So there is no guarantee that these French hospitals will receive any business from this, and also that explains why the patient has to pay for the travel – it would be their own choice to use the hospital in Calais rather than one closer to home. The timing is probably unfortunate for the Calais providers too. The problems at Calais and with the channel tunnel caused by the migrants trying to get to the UK is likely to discourage many people from making that journey. Strikes by employees of the ferry firms has made that option less than guaranteed too at times recently!

That suggests that it will need pretty severe capacity problems in Kent hospitals to make patients consider the journey to France.  But the local Member of Parliament expressed his happiness with the arrangement, saying it “would give extra capacity to hospitals in Kent.” However, he does also want to see more capacity created in local Kent hospitals.

Forgetting the local issues for a moment, the principle is certainly interesting, and supports the idea of open markets and cross-border trading. We will be curious to see how many people make the trip and how this works out for all the parties involved.